Last week, the Republican-led Senate and Democratic House failed to come to an agreement on whether to reconvene for a special session to take action against Gov. Paul LePage for a series of racially charged remarks and profanity-laden threats against a Democratic lawmaker.

Under the Maine Constitution, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate are first required to poll their members on whether to meet for a special session. The question presented by Democratic leaders asked, “Do you consent to coming in for a special session of the Legislature to take action regarding the Governor’s conduct?”

However, Senate President Mike Thibodeau announced last Friday that he would not agree to poll his members because the question did not specify what action would be taken. He noted that while a number of Republican senators expressed a desire to censure the governor for his behavior, they did not want to return for an impeachment vote, which Democratic leaders have advocated for. He argued that Democrats are more focused on gaining political advantage than holding the governor accountable for his actions.

“I think that the Democrats are playing politics when they suggest that we’re going to impeach the governor,” Thibodeau told conservative news talk radio station WVOM. “He hasn’t committed a crime. He obviously stepped over the line, and said so himself, but the problem is that here we are 60 days before an election and rather than talking about … all the great things that both Republicans and the governor have been able to accomplish together, we’re talking about these comments.” 

According to poll results released by Democratic leaders, 84 lawmakers supported reconvening and 67 lawmakers, nearly all of them Republicans, opposed it. Four Republican House members supported returning while Rep. Barry Hobbins (D-Saco) was the sole Democrat to oppose it. 

On September 1, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) told WVOM radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler that it was not the role of the Legislature to discipline the governor and blamed the “liberal media” for focusing too much on LePage’s controversial remarks.

“Am I going to go with a checklist and say, ‘Geez, you know … Governor, are you doing this? Are you doing that? I don’t think that’s my job,” said Fredette. “I don’t think that’s the job of the House of Representatives. I don’t think it’s the job of the state Senate.” 

LePage sparked a national controversy two weeks ago when he doubled down on comments he made seven months ago that black men are coming to Maine to sell heroin and impregnate “young, white” girls. In his most recent remarks, he stated that “black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers.” LePage later sent a voicemail to Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) calling him a “little sonuvabitch socialist cocksucker” for allegedly calling the governor a racist, even though it was later revealed that Gattine had actually used the term “racially charged” to describe the governor’s comments. In a press conference, LePage then called Gattine a “snot-nosed little runt” and fantasized about facing the lawmaker in a duel and pointing a gun “right between his eyes.” The governor later noted that “When you go to war … you shoot at the enemy” and “the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.” 

LePage says he has a binder full of mugshots of drug dealers to “prove” that 90 percent of drug traffickers in Maine are black or of Hispanic origin, but has not released it to the press. According to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, only about 16 percent of drug arrestees are non-residents and 11 percent of drug-sale and manufacturing arrests were African-Americans in 2012. 

Following a national media firestorm and calls for his resignation, LePage apologized to Gattine and his family for the obscene voicemail, but not for his racist remarks. LePage also called on the TV news reporter who informed the governor about Gattine’s comments to apologize and vowed never again to speak to the news media, with the exception of conservative talk radio. 

Democrats Respond

In response to the refusal of Republicans to reconvene, House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) said the issue was about “a matter of principle, not procedure or politics” and that the question left Republicans “plenty of room to advocate for the action they believe is appropriate.”

“With the whole country and world watching, it is now official and in the record books,” wrote Eves in a statement. “Elected Republican leaders have failed Maine people.”

In a Sept. 1 press conference, Eves also noted that if the Legislature removed LePage, Thibodeau would be installed as the next governor. He added that the Senate President is “arguably ... more conservative than the governor” and would likely be “more effective than the governor.”

“So if you’re a conservative and you care about conservative principles and an agenda, I think that you would want an effective leader to take over as governor,” Eves told reporters. “You know, I don’t have a whole lot to gain in saying that, but I know the state would be better off if that happened.”

When asked for a response by the Bangor Daily News to Eves’ comments, Thibodeau reacted angrily, stating, “The fact of the matter is this is not about impeachment and there will be no Governor Thibodeau.” 

An earlier effort to impeach the governor in January failed to secure enough votes in the Maine House. 

Rep. Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship), who helped lead that earlier impeachment effort, has now requested that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap invoke  Article 5, Part 1, section 15 of the Maine Constitution, which allows the Secretary to petition the Maine Supreme Court to evaluate whether the governor is able to continue discharging the duties of his office. 

The letter, which was signed by eight other legislators, including Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County), states that “there are more than reasonable grounds to invoke this clause of the Maine Constitution to examine mental health issues and possible substance abuse issues that prevent Gov. Paul LePage from undertaking his duties as prescribed in his oath of office. Governor LePage has made repeated threats of violence against sitting Legislators and members of the public.”

The letter highlights several of LePage’s controversial remarks, including when he allegedly told a real estate developer last year that Democratic state lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square.” The letter also argues that the governor has made statements supporting “extra judicial killings” and “vigilante justice,” such as last January when he advocated for bringing back the guillotine to deal with drug offenders and called on gun owners to “load up and get rid of the drug dealers.”

When asked for a response, Dunlap said he would “think about that.”

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln County) as well as Reps. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), Joan Welsh (D-Rockport), Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston), Christine Burstein (D-Lincolnville) and Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) said the governor should be impeached. 

Under the Maine Constitution, a sitting governor can be impeached and removed from office for the vaguely defined “misdemeanor in office,” which Democrats have argued can simply mean “official misconduct.” 

Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center said that LePage should either be removed from office or given a leave of absence for treatment and recovery. “I believe he is in no state of mind to be Governor,” said Beebe-Center. “I don’t know if it is a result of his own personal cycle of domestic violence and he is abusing others as he experienced abuse. I don’t know if it is alcoholism, or the pressure of the office — but I don’t believe he should be in a leadership position, at this time, when so many lives of people literally depend on his judgment.”

Rep. Chuck Kruger said that he would like to vote to impeach the governor again because he has believed that LePage was “psychologically unfit for high office” since he was elected. Failing that, he said that he would support some kind of resolution to censure LePage, even though he didn’t believe it would have much impact.   

“I believe if the voters want to punish the Governor they should work to elect veto-proof majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate in November,” said Kruger. “That will be very tough for this Governor to deal with and send a very clear message.”

Republicans Respond

Local House Republicans MaryAnne Kinney (Knox), James Gillway (Searsport), Stephanie Hawke (Edgecomb) and Deb Sanderson (Chelsea) would not answer questions about their decision to not return to Augusta. But a number of Republicans have jumped to the governor’s defense. In an op-ed in the Twin City Times, Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald praised LePage for his comments and accused “the left” of “sissify[ing] the population.”

“If a governor’s election was held today, Governor LePage would win handily,” wrote Macdonald. “Why? Because he speaks for the hard-working common people, not the wine-sipping, cheese-eating, Prius-driving Maine elitists.…”

Writing in the ultra-conservative Maine Wire blog, Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) also defended the governor against criticism by what he described as the “toga-clad bedwetter caucus.” He argued that Maine voters knew they were getting “a blunt-spoken, proverbial bull-in-a-china-shop business guy who occasionally uses locker-room language in response to critics who take cheap shots at him” when they reelected LePage. “For many voters, having a Governor unshackled by the constraints of political correctness was a breath of fresh air after decades of smooth-talking, scripted chief executives who drove Maine’s economy into the ditch,” wrote Lockman. 

Rep. Steve Wood (R-Greene) replied with a sarcastic note of gratitude to Massachusetts resident Laurie Hunt, who threatened to boycott Maine due to the lack of action against the governor. Wrote Wood: “Thanks for not coming to Maine we have a nought [sic] mass holes here in Maine that trying to tell us true Maine r’s [sic] how to live our lives and what we can and can’t do. I don’t tell you how to run your state so don’t tell me how to run our state Thanks for not coming to Maine Rep Steve Wood”

Meanwhile, with Republicans holding a five-seat majority in the Senate and being just nine seats short of a majority in the House, there’s no doubt that Democrats will try to capitalize on the governor’s behavior until election day. And with both Thibodeau and Fredette floated as potential successors to LePage when his term is up in 2018, there’s a lot at stake this November. But while Fredette is currently running unopposed in his rock-ribbed conservative district, Thibodeau is facing the same candidate who he only defeated by 105 votes in 2014, which was a notably strong Republican year. Both LePage and Fredette, who have often clashed with Senate Republicans, didn’t seem too concerned when WVOM host George Hale suggested the GOP could lose control of the Senate. 

“I expect to lose the Senate,” said LePage on Tuesday. “I just think that the lack of action the last two years, I think that’s going to hurt us.” 

“Well look, it’s interesting in my six years in the House we’ve had a House and  Senate that was Republican,” replied Fredette last week. “We’ve had a House and Senate that was Democrat. We’ve had one scenario where we’ve had a Republican Senate and a Democratic House. We’d like to flip that quite frankly and put the House in the majority this time.”